“Call me Ishmael…” and so begins one of the great American stories. Originally published as “The Whale” in October 1851 in London, Herman Melville’s classic American novel was published in New York with its definitive title on 13 November 1851. The story is based partly off of the true and tragic fate of the whaler Essex, which was destroyed by a whale in 1820, whose survivors had to resort to cannibalism, and the Mocha Dick, an albino sperm whale that fed off the coast of Chile in the early 19th century that was notoriously hard to kill. Mocha Dick survived over a hundred encounters with American whalers before he was slain.
Moby Dick is the story of the crew of the Nantucket whaler, Pequod, and told through the eyes of the sailor Ishmael. But it is really the tale of Captain Ahab, and his self destructive and obsessive quest for revenge on Moby Dick, a great white whale. With themes of obsession, race, defiance, revenge, friendship, brotherhood, free will, and duty, the Pequod is a microcosm of America and every bit as relevant today as it was in antebellum America.
“Wherefore … we account the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in individuality… . In Noah’s flood he despised Noah’s ark; and if ever the world is to be flooded again, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.”
“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”